Friday, 18 July 2008

Summer In Florida - So What Is It Like?

The New York Times article I wrote about - about Florida owners renting their places out in peak season, and only enjoying them during the summer months - got me thinking. Is summer in Florida all that bad?

Yes, the summer is low season. People think of it as being very hot and humid. Too quiet. Empty. And, of course, not to mention that it's also hurricane season. (Hurricane season officially runs from the beginning of June to the end of November.)

All in all, it doesn't exactly sound like the time of year you'd want to visit your property, right? Why put up with all of that when you could instead enjoy your holiday home in winter, when your country is probably cold and grim?

That's not exactly the case. Florida is still very enjoyable during the summer months. I've been to the state a number of times during the summer, and haven't enjoyed my trips any less than when I've been there during winter. Sometimes even more! So let's look at some reasons why Florida in the summer is just as nice:
  • Yes, it can get very hot and humid in Florida - think temperatures in the mid to high 30s (in Celsius). But southern Europe can get just as hot and sticky, so the weather out in Florida isn't anything unusual for a lot of us. Hey, some years (such as 2003 and 2006) it's even been that hot during the summer in England! But the major difference about all this in Florida is that...they have everything in place to cope with this kind of weather. There is air conditioning everywhere. Some places (shops) have it so cold that you'll need to take a jumper with you to wear indoors. Cars have ultra-powerful air con too. Every home has it. (How many homes in Europe have air con as standard?!) And if that's not enough, you can always jump the pool or sea to cool down.
  • If you're from England, chances are that the summer you've had so far hasn't been spectacular, weather wise. Like this year. Or last year. So, on holiday, anything that isn't grey and drizzle is a plus. Sun and high temperatures, as in Florida, is therefore fantastic!
  • If you've ever driven in Florida, you'll recognise that "less congested roads" during the summer is a major bonus.
  • Who isn't pleased by quieter beaches during the summer? No one wants to sit on a crowded beach, with only a square metre of space for themselves. (Weekends will still be busy on the beaches, of course.)
  • Summer is also rainy season. Okay, so that's never a plus. But thankfully, rain in Florida tends to consist of a really heavy storm for an hour or so. So you can easily avoid it. And a Florida rainstorm is also a pretty exciting thing to see/be in!
  • There's certain activities that may well be more enjoyable in the summer. The New York Times article highlights fishing, boating and snorkelling as some examples.
  • There's also lots of events going on - concerts, sports games, festivals, exhibitions - just as in winter.
  • "Quieter" doesn't mean completely dead. It means you can get reservations at top restaurants and so on more easily. But there will still be plenty of other people there too! You won't be dining out in deserted places where you're the only customer!
  • Some places - like South Beach - don't seem to have a "low season". I was there on a Friday night in June, and had to practically fight my way through the crowds of people on Ocean Drive.
  • Summer also brings the 4th of July - Independence Day. If you're there (or anywhere in America) you'll have a great time taking part in the celebrations. Don't forget to head to your local beach to watch the fireworks display!

So give summer in Florida a go!

Photo - Hollywood Beach, June 2008 N.B. That's the beach on a Tuesday - notice how empty!

Article: Foreclosure Defense Buys Homeowners Time

Much has been made of the increasing number of homes and properties that are foreclosing in Florida and the rest of the U.S. And with that now comes a new trend - foreclosure defence. Essentially, for those facing foreclosure, this involves hiring an attorney (solicitor) to help them fight against lenders via the courts - a process that may stall the foreclosure of their homes by months or even years. Owners continue to live in their properties, and without the threat of immediate eviction, they may well be able to raise enough money to move elsewhere, or even be able to sell their home.

Does this seem a shifty to you? It does a little to me. I do see how this process may be able to help those that have genuinely fallen on hard times, who may well be left "homeless" if their home forecloses. At this stage, people are few options and need to turn to someone for help with their situation. But foreclosure defence seems to be the kind of thing that certain less than genuine people would readily take advantage of. Not to mention that some attorneys that offer foreclosure defence may themselves take advantage of some property owners, without properly helping them.

The article also mentions one lady that opted for a foreclosure defence help after her mortgage loan payments stopped automatically being taken from her bank account after a new mortgage company took over her loan. She didn't realise this until it was too late. Avnd she didn't realise she was supposed to be paying to a new mortgage company because..."she is careless about opening her mail".


Article: Foreclosure defense buys homeowners time (Miami Herald, 18th July 2008)

Article: At Home In The Florida Sizzle

The New York Times today features an interesting article about renting out Florida property - and making the most of the different vacation seasons in the state. The article highlights how property owners are making the most of the prime holiday periods (winter and February to April), and dealing with the tradionally quiet summer season, particularly July and August, when Florida is generally considered just too hot!

In particular, the article highlights a growing trend of Florida property owners; renting out the house or flat in the winter months, when demand is high and high rental returns can be achieved, and then enjoying the property themselves during the summer, when there's a lot less interest from holidaymakers and renters. That way they can get the best income from their property (which is of added importance in the current economic climate) whilst still getting to enjoy the property and Florida themselves.

More to the point, because summer in Florida is hot and humid, not to mention hurricane-prone, the whole place quietens down somewhat during that season. But that too has its advantages - more space on the beach; better chance of getting reservations at the top restaurants; less traffic-congested roads. On the other hand, however, the busy and popular areas - i.e. Miami and South Beach - remain buzzing all year round, so there's still plenty to do if that's your preference. So those that choose to enjoy their own property during the summer months won't be missing out.

The article also mentions the new "condo hotels" that have begun to appear and gain in popularity in southeast Florida. People buy units in these hotels as they would a normal property, and these are then let out by the hotel in the normal way - with the hotel, of course, taking a percentage of the rental achieved. Owners are still allowed to use their unit any time they choose, but are more likely to avoid doing so in peak season when they can make the highest rent from their property.

Article: At Home in the Florida Sizzle (The New York Times, 18th July 2008)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Recommended Bars In Southeast Florida

In probably the last of my series of recommended places in southeast Florida, I'm now going to take a look at some of bars and nightspots that I visisted. (I say probably, as I may well think of other places to recommend!)

Delano 1685 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 33139
Wow! Sorry, I'll say that again - wow!! Wherever you're staying in southeast Florida I'd strongly recommend that you visit the Delano on a night out. This place is amazing - and stunningly beautiful. If you pay a visit to this place, the first thing I'd do is, make that strutt...right through the lobby of the hotel to its bar area at the back. It will make you feel like you're in a movie. Or possibly in an episode of Sex and the City. Or both, given that a movie of the TV show has recently come out. Then head out to the poolside bar area where you can lounge at chic tables or sun loungers (yes, also at night) or even sitting right by the pool, dangling your legs in the water.

King's Head Pub 500 E Dania Beach Boulevard, Dania 33004
If you're after a taste of home (assuming you're from the UK, that is) and want it with a slight Floridian twist, come to the King's Head pub in Dania Beach. Case in point: one time I went there for a beer and some televised football, a land crab scuttled in to the bar area and freaked out the nice bar lady. You wouldn't get that back in Blighty, now would you? There's a small bar area serving a variety of beer - both draught and bottled - and a larger restaurant serving traditional English food as well as other dishes. There's also a large beer garden for al fresco drinking. Hey, it's Florida, you'll get plenty of opportunity to do that. I enjoyed watching some of the Euro 2008 games here - so if you're missing your fix of football (soccer), be sure to come here.

Blu Martini Lounge 1820 S Young Circle, Hollywood 33020
Located right on Young Circle in downtown Hollywood, this place seems a little unassuming from the outside, with its blank white exterior and dark windows. But inside you'll find a hip bar with a very extensive drinks menu. When we went, on a Monday, it was Ladies' Night. A concept somewhat lost on us (hey, we're from the UK, it doesn't happen here), so we enquired as to what that exactly was. Free drinks all night, we were told. "Free? What, entirely free??" Yes, entirely free. We didn't argue, and promptly ordered our first round. The place is open until 2am Tuesdays and Sundays; until 4am all other nights of the week.

PRL Cafe 1904A Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood 33020
This is a great find. Located in a very narrow space in downtown Hollywood, next to a pizza parlour, the very laid-back PRL Cafe serves over 100 different beers. Pretty cool, huh? The slightly off-the-wall decor adds to the whole vibe of the place. As do the hundreds of photos that line the walls that show fun times in the bar in the past. This place also has Ladies' Night on a Monday, when it's two-for-one on beer.

Marriott Hollywood Beach 2501 North Ocean Drive Hollywood 33019
If you ever take a early evening stroll on the broadwalk at Hollywood Beach, and then decide that you are a little peckish or a bit parched, the Marriott Hollywood Beach is a good place to come. It's classier than some of its beach counterparts, making you feel like you're somewhere a bit more special, but it's also relaxed enough for you to feel like you don't have to dress up. There's a bar area and a proper sit-down restaurant. Try one of the dessert-style cocktails from their menu.

Hollywood Prime at the Westin Diplomat 3555 South Ocean Drive, Hollywood 33019
This mega-hotel has a number of restaurants and bars for you to enjoy...and some for you to avoid, quite frankly. The one that I would recommend is Hollywood Prime, a restaurant located just to the left of the lobby as you enter the hotel. I can't talk about the food - I didn't eat there - but the small bar area is very enjoyable. A very knowledgeable and friendly barman served us delicious martinis in a comfortable setting - think dark wood and expensive fittings, with soothing jazz piped over the sound system. One bar to avoid is BarSu, the bar slap bang in the middle of the lobby. Well, unless you like to hang out with drunken elder yahoos shouting at sport on the big screen, that is.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood 33314
First off, if you're into your gambling in any way, you must come here. I'm not a gambler by any means - actually, I'm not a gambler at all - but what I saw at the casino here seemed to rival some of the casinos in Las Vegas - if being a little smaller. But the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino also has a large entertainment complex attached to it that is home to a variety of bars and a couple of giant clubs, Spirits and Passion. On the night we went, a Wednesday, the whole complex seemed a little quiet. Spirits nightclub, however, is apparently the place to be on a Friday or Saturday. We didn't venture out to it on the weekend to see if this was true or not, I'm afraid!

Skybar at The Shore Club 1901 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 33139
Ultra Mynt Lounge 1921 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 33139
I thought I'd lump these two together, although it's probably a little mean to do so. Having enjoyed a fabulous few hours at the Delano, my friend and I thought we would check these two places out, seeing as they were highly recommended to us. Skybar seems pleasant enough, comprising of several different bars (both indoor and outdoor), if too racuous on the night we went (a Thursday). And not good raucous, everyone-get-your-hands-in-the-air-raucous. More a little too packed with the flash people type of raucous. Ultra Mynt Lounge is part proper dance club, part club for the moneyed to show off. It wasn't for us, so we did a quick loop round the place in 30 seconds and left. Perhaps either might have been better on another night, particularly the Skybar. Still, if you want to be seen, these two are the place to go.

Photo June 2008 - King's Head Pub, Dania Beach

Friday, 4 July 2008

Happy 4th of July!

A very happy 4th of July to all our American readers and all those celebrating American Independence Day.

I've only ever been in America (Florida) once for the 4th of July celebrations, and I remember a joyous evening sitting on Hollywood Beach, watching the fireworks.

The photo at the top of this post (and used in the banner of this blog) was taken in Hollywood Beach the day before Independence Day a few years ago, as the local residents and businesses prepared for the next day's celebrations.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Recommended Restaurants In Southeast Florida - Classics

The reason I've called these restaurants "classics" is so I don't do them a disservice. My previous post talked about "upscale" restaurants, but the ones I feature below aren't any less enjoyable because they're not quite as expensive!

Angelo's Corner 200 Garfield Street, Hollywood Beach 33019
Although Angelo's Corner, situated right on Hollywood Beach, serves a variety of food (burgers, sandwiches and so on), you must go for pizza - it will be the best one you have ever tasted! There's different types, but I always usually go for the peperoni. A 16-inch one will only set you back $12. You can also order one for take-away; they'll make and cook it it in front of you. On the day we went, there had been storms pretty much the entire day which had kept all beachgoers away. We received a cheer on walking into the restaurant; I'd like to think that that's because they were pleased to see us, but it may just be because they were pleased to see any customers on that very rainy day. So I can't guarantee that you'll be cheered as you walk in, but I can guarantee that you'll get fantastic pizza.

Le Tub 1100 N Ocean Drive, Hollywood Beach 33019
If you go to only one of my recommendations on these pages, make it this one. Le Tub's burgers have been declared as the best in America by GQ Magazine, and even goddess Oprah herself. Situated on the Intracoastal Waterway with beautiful views, this is a really quirky place built from "flotsam, jetsam and ocean borne treasures all gathered daily over 4 years of day break jogging on Hollywood Beach". And it's true, as the tables, benches and walls all seem to be made from driftwood. Although there's a variety of things on the menu, you have to go for the sirloinburger, 13 ounces of ground top sirloin. It'll take a while to cook (it's huge!) but it's worth it - and the longer you have to build up your appetite, the better. (As I've said, it's huge!) I have the proud honour of going to Le Tub on three different occasions with three different people. Each time, they were unable to finish their giant burger. I, on the other hand, managed mine in double-quick time. Maybe I'm just a glutton.

The Floridian 1410 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale 33301
If you're after a traditional American diner, The Floridian is definitely the place to come. Open 24 hours, it serves comfort food in a cosy setting. I went in mid-afternoon to take shelter from the incessant rain that day - and boy, did I need comfort food! Go for one of the breakfast options; there's such a wide variety that there will definitely be something that takes your fancy.
Greenstreet Cafe 3110 Commodore Plaza Coconut Grove 33133
If you pay a trip down to Coconut Grove, a quaint little area with a laid-back vibe, try this place. The Greenstreet Cafe has a great corner location, and there's plenty of outdoor seating - perfect for you to relax and take in the surroundings. Try one of the salads or sandwiches for lunch.

Zona Fresca 1635 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale 33305
At it's basic level, Zona Fresca is a Mexican fast food place serving burritos, tacos, nachos and the like. Except it's so much more than that. Made with all natural ingredients, the dishes have none of bland, additive-loaded food that you get at fast food chains. Even the salsa is delicious, and you can tell that the guacamole is "made from scratch using whole ripe avocados". Best of all are the prices - for a very generously sized bean and cheese burrito (which comes with a side of nachos) and a beer, I paid just over $6.

Oriente 1300 Ocean Drive, Miami 33139
Oriente is the restaurant at the Cardozo Hotel, which is owned by Gloria Estefan and her huband. Located right on Ocean Drive (i.e. the road right next to the beach) it's a perfect location to people watch. And if you're on Ocean Drive, you'll have plenty of that to do! Oriente blends a mix of Cuban, American and European cuisines. Try one of the Cuban wraps or sandwiches - they're very tasty.

Jerry's Famous Deli 1450 Collins Avenue, Miami 33139
This place is amazing - you have to see it to be believe. Located in a prime position on Collins Avenue (in the heart of South Beach), Jerry's Famous Deli is a very large diner-style restaurant that's open 24 hours. So far, not so stunning, you think? Well, the clincher is that they serve over 600 different dishes. Can't decide between your friends over what kind of food to eat? Come here - you can have a pizza, whilst your friends tuck in to burgers, salads, breakfasts, desserts and the rest. If you're in South Beach on a night out, you should definitely come here for some post-clubbing nibbles.

Jamba Juice various locations
Jamba Juice is a country-wide chain of juice bars. What's the big deal, you ask, there's plenty of juice bars everywhere? Well, here's the big deal. These blended juices are delicious and refreshing, mixed as they are with ice and sherbert. If you get a chance, try one - you'll see the difference.

Photos all June 2008 - 1. Le Tub restaurant 2. Cardozo Hotel/Oriente Restaurant 3. Jamba Juice in Fort Lauderdale

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Recommend Restaurants In Southeast Florida - Upscale

As promised, I'm going to share with you some of the restaurants and bars I enjoyed during my stay in southeast Florida. I've come to realise that I treated myself rather a lot during my stay - but hey, I was on holiday! I went to a wide variety of places so rather than bombard you with everything in one post, I'm going to concentrate on upscale restaurants first.

The Conrad Hotel for Sunday Brunch 1395 Brickell Avenue, Miami 33131
Wow, what a find! The Conrad Hotel in downtown Miami features a beautiful restaurant on its 25th Floor, aptly named Level 25. The all-you-eat buffet brunch costs $55 - yes, that may seem a little pricey, but it's worth it. The quality and choice of food is amazing - it includes breakfast (various types of eggs cooked in front of you; waffles, pancakes, bacon and so on), sandwiches, mixed salads, a carvery section, cold meats and cheese, seafood, sushi, and gorgeous cakes. They'll also offer you three additional dishes cooked to order - I had scrambled eggs infused with truffle oil. Also included are unlimited champagne, mimosas and bloody marys. Best of all, the views over Biscayne Bay are amazing! Brunch served between 11am to 2.30pm.

Johnny V 625 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale 33301
What a find! My friend and I decided to spend a bit of time in Fort Lauderdale one morning, checking out the beach and so on. For lunch, we decided on "somewhere on Las Olas Boulevard", mainly because there seemed to be a bit of choice there, lots of cafes and similar. Not looking for anything especially fancy, we walked past this place and got enticed by the rather exciting menu. Johnny V has a fantastic range of dishes - think comfort food with a twist. I had the "Kentucky Hot Brown" which was essentially a turkey, bacon and cheese melted sandwich. I was expecting something low-key, but it arrived beautifully presented as an open sandwich on focaccia bread, served in a cooking pan. There seemed to be a very extensive wine and drinks list. Good service as well.

Blue Moon Fish Co. 4405 West Tradewinds Avenue, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea 33308
Located in a fantastic spot, right on the Intracoastal Waterway, the Blue Moon Fish Co. is a superb fish and seafood restaurant, as the name might suggest. It's very popular, though, so you might want to reserve a table prior to your visit - especially if you want an outdoor one. It helps if you have a very healthy appetite if you come to this restaurant; because everything on the menu looked so delicious I ordered a starter (which I don't normally do when I eat out). When my (pan seared, fresh shucked) oysters arrived, I couldn't believe the size of the portion! It meant I could barely finish my main, the sauteed yellow snapper.

Christine's 2671 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale 33306
Christine's is a new restaurant (opened this year) and it certainly shows with its sleek interior. This place serves modern American cuisine. Music is played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings - on the night we went (Friday) soothing live jazz played up by the bar area. I had the tasty duck breast with edamame and apricot sauce, with the delicious caramelized banana cheesecake as dessert.

Check back for other restaurant reviews soon!

Photo June 2008 - Blue Moon Fish Co.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Enjoying Your Property & Florida

I've recently managed to take a holiday out to my property in Florida for the first time. I did go out to it in January, but that was a mad dash around to furnish the place!

This was a proper "sit back, relax, and enjoy" holiday. And it was fantastic to do so in my own flat. I also found it pleasing to holiday in a "familiar" place - I knew where to stock on essentials, where the place to park for the beach was, what's the best way to drive to the local mall and so on - although that doesn't make the holiday boring, not by any means. On the contrary, that left me more time to explore, search out great restaurants, try some new bars, and visit places that I'd either never been before or not been to in absolutely years. (Such as the Everglades.)

Here are some tips that I'd like to share:

  • If your property comes with a pool - use it! (If it's a house with a private pool, how lucky you are.) The pool area is likely to be very tranquil with few people

  • Florida has an abundance of nature parks, and there is bound to be one near you. I'm lucky - I have two beautiful ones about 5/10 minute walk from my flat. You'll be able to walk, hike, explore nature, fish, canoe/kayak in the parks.
  • If you're close enough to the Everglades, it's definitely worth visiting. The place is amazing. And you'll get to go on one of the airboats, which are tremendously fun. We visited the Everglades Holiday Park which offers boat tours (with very knowledge guides) and gator shows.

  • If you're heading to Florida this time of year, be prepared for rain - quite a lot of it. Whilst most showers tend to pass over after an hour or two (even if it's a full lightning and thunder storm) some days may be total washouts. So plan some indoor activities - shopping is always good!
  • I had an absolutely awful time with mosquitoes this year. If you're prone to their bites, make sure you bring (or stock up) on some spray or something similar. Try to avoid sitting out at dusk. And if you do sit out on your balcony or terrace, one tip we were told would be to have a small fan out there (a cheap one you can buy from your local supermarket/pharmacy) that apparently keeps them away.

  • Don't go to your local beach on weekends - it will be very, very crowded. Even if you just want to visit a beach cafe for lunch/dinner it will be very busy. Go on a weekday instead.

I'm going to do a separate post on the restaurants and bars I found - check back for that later!

Photos all June 2008 - 1. Fort Lauderdale Beach, 2. an alligator at the Everglades National Park,